California’s working families are the foundation of our great state. However, for too many low-income Californians — those among us who work the hardest but still make the least — a job alone is not enough to provide for a family and rise above poverty.
We know first-hand that every little bit helps. We both grew up poor and a few extra dollars meant our families were able to cover the necessities.
Today, income inequality in California is greater than before the Great Recession.
Addressing this growing divide requires both good policy and on-the-ground efforts. That’s why last year California lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown launched the new state Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), taking a powerful step towards boosting the income of working Californians on the lowest rungs of the pay ladder.
However, many low-income families do not know about the benefits of EITC. Many do not file their taxes and claim the credit they have earned because they do not owe any taxes, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars unclaimed each year.
CalEITC4Me, a statewide public-private outreach and education campaign, has brought together government agencies and community partners to reach Californians with the greatest need. An online heat map helps community partners more effectively serve the families they already have connections with.
Hurdles that often keep people from filing their taxes include transportation, language barriers, and the high cost of commercial tax preparation services. By reaching out locally, trusted community partners can personally educate Californians on the EITC and direct them to free tax preparation services in their own neighborhoods.
In the first year, nearly 400,000 Californians received the new CalEITC resulting in almost $200 million in refunds. Bakersfield residents claimed more CalEITC than any other California community. In the 93307 ZIP code alone, families received $1.1 million worth of cash-back refunds in 2016. For many, this income boost makes the difference between barely getting by and having a little extra to pay for housing, food, transportation and education.
CalEITC4Me also serves to increase participation in the federal EITC, to help ensure Californians receive more of the $2 billion in federal EITC dollars that go unclaimed here each year. In Kern County alone, $58 million in federal EITC was left unclaimed in 2012.
The benefits of the earned income tax credit extend beyond immediate dollars and cents. Studies show that children in households that receive the EITC do better in school, are more likely to attend college, and have better health outcomes.
Additionally, even a moderate boost in income helps ease the persistent economic anxiety many low-income families face every day. This stress can transfer to children, and increase a child’s chances of dropping out of high school and remaining poor as adults.
In Kern County, according to the Kern County Report Card, 33 percent of all children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Awareness and claiming of the EITC is a critical tool in improving the day-to-day lives and futures of thousands of Californians.
The combined economic impact of the state and federal EITC is profound, putting up to $6,000 directly into the pockets of Californians while injecting millions of dollars into the state’s economy. With CalEITC, our state is improving the lives of working families in Kern County and throughout California.
Visit CalEITC4Me.org to see if you are eligible and find a free tax preparation site near you.